Sweet-voiced Arlington folk singer Diane Taraz has released an
austerely pretty holiday CD called "Hope! Says the Holly." She sets a
mood of wintry quiet as she wanders through ancient and familiar
carols, including "Cherry Tree Carol"; a darkly warm cover of "In the
Bleak Midwinter"; and a version of "Auld Lang Syne" using the original
melody for which Robert Burns wrote his famous song. It's fascinating
to hear the considerably different mood the original air sets.
-- Scott Alarik
Following several releases, guitarist/vocalist Diane Taraz adopts a
festive mood. "Hope! Says the Holly" is her offering of holiday folk
songs ranging back to the 1500s. Opener "Green Grows the Holly" is
attributed to the decidedly unfestive Henry VIII. Dulcimer and piano
augment selections, and "People, Look East" and "Angels We Have Heard
on High" feature the kalimba, with Taraz using it like a European
music box. Cello, violin, bass, fiddle, bones -- even "leaping lord,"
"contented cow" and "piper" comprise standards-boosting
instrumentation. The talented Taraz vocalizes all parts for "Lo, How
a Rose E'er Blooming" and oversees a zany, sound-effect-filled "Twelve
Days of Christmas." The celebratory winter solstice song "In the
Bleak Midwinter" is adorned with three verses penned by Taraz. Robert
Burns' nostalgic "Auld Lang Syne" and the traditional "Silent Night"
round out the festivities.
-- Stacy Meyn
These songs ... are performed beautifully. Taraz ... makes excellent musical choices in her arrangements with just the right accompaniment for each song. She uses the kalimba to striking effect in "People, Look East," where it sounds like bright chimes.... An exquisite arrangement of "Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming" ... begins a cappella in three-part harmony -- Taraz possesses a marvelous vocal range -- after which Taraz plays the melody on a mountain dulcimer, then accompanies the three part harmony again. The overall effect is breathtakingly lovely.
"The Twelve Days of Christmas" is a light and fun rendition, complete with a sound effect for each gift on each day. The sound effects are heard only when the new item is introduced and then all at once in the final countdown rather than dragging out the song and bludgeoning the joke to death. The kalimba makes a virtuoso appearance in an instrumental of "Angels We Have Heard on High," where the arrangement was painstakingly laid down on multiple tracks; one can only play two notes at a time on a thumb piano (one for each thumb). The result is a full-bodied baroque-sounding music box of a melody, at once delicate and robust, and certainly unique!
Taraz keeps the first stanza of Christina Rossetti's
poem-turned-Christmas-carol, "In the Bleak Midwinter," and rewrites
the other three stanzas to reflect a more secular and general approach
to the solstice.... Taraz gives the melody a striking treatment with
bell-like piano accompaniment. The CD closes with "Silent Night," and
Taraz sings it gently and simply with guitar accompaniment. It makes a
perfect ending to a CD replete with remarkable arrangements performed
with versatility and style.
-- Donna Scanlon